Fort Lewis readies for initial brigade testing

by Pfc. Tom Bradbury

FORT LEWIS, Wash. (Army News Service, Nov. 22, 1999) -- Armor soldiers in 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, will soon be saying goodbye to their Abrams tanks, and hello to vehicles totally new to the Army.

In a press conference held at I Corps Headquarters Nov. 19, Lt. Gen. James T. Hill, commander, I Corps and Fort Lewis, announced that 46 Land Assault Vehicle-III's will soon be arriving on post as part of the Army's new "Initial Brigade." However, The LAV-III's, which will be on loan from Canada, are not necessarily the equipment that will be seen in motor pools across the brigade in the future, Hill said.

The conference took place after 30 general officers, from the Army's top officials, as well as the commandants of every school within the Training and Doctrine Command, met here to discuss the Army's new concept currently known as the "Initial Brigade."

"These vehicles will be used to develop the tactics, techniques and procedures the initial brigades will use to accomplish their missions," Hill said.

The change, which has been questioned by some members of the Armor community, will first take place at Fort Lewis, but will be linked back to the Armor Center at Fort Knox, Ky.

"The most visible early part of this transformation will be happening to the two combat brigades here at Fort Lewis," Hill said. "A number of Fort Lewis soldiers will go to Fort Knox, to participate in vehicle demonstrations this January, to better communicate the Army's requirements to industry."

The reason for some of the misgivings expressed by armor soldiers in several nationally circulated articles may be that some see the change as a total loss of tanks within the Army, the general said.

"People have said that we're taking away the tank," Hill said. "But what is a tank? A tank is a movable, maneuverable platform that is survivable and shoots something off that goes out and kills something else. The tank has been evolving since World War I. We are just continuing the evolution."

"What this is about is transforming the way we fight," said Maj. Gen. James Dubik, deputy commanding general for transformation, I Corps and Fort Lewis, and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. "This is not about new platforms and new equipment, this is about a new fighting style. Because of the change in fighting style, we need different types of equipment.

"(The changes) require a different approach to leader training, organizational training, and individual training," he said.

The full scope of individual training that will be done is, as of yet, uncertain, but the tankers of old will have to learn to operate their new equipment.

"There will be some reorganizations of the MOS's," Hill said. "A change in the way the soldiers will operate within their units, but not MOS changes, that I foresee right now."

The soldiers who will be affected by the change will not be without vehicles for long. "Once they turn their Abrams and Bradleys in, (armor and mechanized infantry soldiers) will be dealing with other vehicles," Dubik said.

Deciding what and how to teach them on their new vehicles will be up to Dubik. "Part of my task is to decide what retraining is required, and how to do that retraining," Dubik said.

The upcoming demonstration at Fort Knox will give military weapon contractors a chance to show the Army what they are capable of developing, and give the Army the opportunity to tell them what they want.

"Were saying to industry to 'come bring your stuff, we'll put our soldiers in them, let them run some operations, then we will begin to tell what we're looking for,' it's a demonstration, that's all," Hill said.

After the demonstration the Army will begin to form an idea of what kind of vehicle they are going to begin with. "Then we will begin the selection process," Hill said. "There is no preconceived notion that says its wheels or track."

The only preferences the general expressed was that the vehicles needed to be able to be loaded in a C-130 type aircraft, and may be air dropable. Although the talk has all been about wheeled vehicles, Hill did not rule out the idea of the Army staying with the tracked weaponry.

"What we want is a vehicle that is lethal, survivable, mobile and strategically deployable," Dubik said. The desired weapon to be mounted on the vehicle is also not yet decided.

"Caliber is almost 'old speak,'" said Dubik. "If you can get technology to fire a very small item very fast, you get the same effect."

The ultimate goal for all the changes is a faster force, one that can get to the battle quicker. The proposed timeline would put a full brigade into battle anywhere in the world within 96 hours, a division within five days, and five divisions in 30 days, Hill said.

"In general, forces now (in battle) make contact with the enemy, develop the situation, then maneuver the main body force against the enemy," Dubik said. "We want to reverse that."

Not only will the forces be handling the enemy differently, but they also will be required to handle different enemies in different places.

"Brigades generally have had a limited battle space, this force will have a variety," Dubik said. The new brigades, he explained, will be able to adapt to greater variety in the areas in which they operate and the nature of opponents they will face.

This flexibility will be aided by the fact that the brigades will simply have less baggage. "Right now the general principal is if you need something take it with you," Dubik said. "We want to turn that around to take only what is necessary, and reach back for capabilities that we did not deploy with."

"I think Fort Lewis was chosen, because we have a heavy and a light brigade, we have the training areas, and our projection platform," Hill said. "We will take the brigade, develop the operational concepts, refine the equipment and develop the Army of the future."

"We want this organization operational in October (2000)," Hill said. "With a mixture of loaner and surrogate equipment." After the testing is done, the Army hopes to have three more brigades transitioned within five years, Hill said.

"We really have begun a historical transformation," said Hill. " Our Fort Lewis troops are essential players, and we are all excited about it."

(Editor's note: Bradbury is a journalist with the I Corps and Fort Lewis Public Affairs Office at Fort Lewis, Wash.)